Using Reinforcement Systems During Distance Learning

May 15, 2020 1 Comment

As special educators, we all know the importance of positive reinforcement in teaching our students.  This is equally important now that we have had to implement distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak.  It can be a little overwhelming, but let me shows you a few ways to use positive reinforcement to help during distance learning.

using token economies during distance learning can help increase student engagement in students with autism

Although we are not in the classroom for the time being, it is still really important to be implementing behavior systems.  Working with children from their homes through a computer or tablet opens us up to many different contingencies.  For a lot of us (including kids), your behavior is different when you’re at home.  I may wear yoga pants and chug coffee when I’m at home, but I avoid that when I’m in my classroom.  This can be the same for our students: the structured classroom environment is gone, and they’re used to home being the place they can stay in their pajamas until 11 and play on the iPad to their heart’s content.  So, it’s no surprised that we still need to put in the effort to engage with us through a computer when there are many other ways they contact reinforcement.  The cool thing is that we can get really creative with our reinforcement systems.

Scheduling reinforcement in work

One positive of distance learning for our students that loooove technology is that the format we’re using to deliver instruction is motivating for our students.  My genius speech therapist scheduled in videos intermixed with questions to our morning meeting.  This worked awesome because the reinforcement was naturally there, no special token boards or fancy visuals necessary.  If you have students that are not at the point of understanding token boards, this is a great way to motivate.

Virtual token economies

If you do feel like your students could benefits from a token economy, a lot of teachers have seen success with implementing virtual token economies.  People have gotten really creative, using platforms like Google Slides and Boom Learning to deliver tokens to be used for backup reinforcers.  You can easily keep a small window open with the token economies while presenting lessons in the same window.  To be frank, one of the things I don’t love about the virtual token economies is that they can be tricky to run when you’re working with a small groups.  I have also noticed that, when sharing multiple windows on a screen, it can make the original window look really small.  A window on a 14” monitor is suddenly 5”.  If you do choose to use a token economy virtually, I recommend using Boom Learning to utilize it.  I actually have a resource of behavior visuals hosted on the Boom Learning website.


Other types of token economies

Maybe it’s not conducive to bring the token economy digitally, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them! You can utilize a lot of different token economies to be used while you are presenting yourself live and on camera for your students.  For example, a white board with tallies or stars can be used.  A container where the student gets a few small blocks/erasers can be used.  If you are looking some interesting ideas, I have found that a lot of video on You Tube about VIP Kids that shows some really good token economies (even if that’s not what they call it!).  I made a token economy by using an empty orzo container along with caps from my son’s fruit pouches.  Get creative!token economies for distance learning

Just remember…

Keep in mind that it’s okay to make it really easy for your students to earn, especially at first.  This is a time to have a boatload of compassion and understanding for our students’ situations.  Things like sharing a computer with 3 siblings or being frustrated that they can’t leave their house and very valid reasons for our students to have difficulty engaging in learning.  Making sure to reinforce the heck out of effort, but don’t feel pressured to keep the same level of demands on as you did in the classroom.  Don’t forget to be using best practices when utilizing virtual reinforcement systems as you do when in person.  This blog post will hopefully give you some thoughtful reminders.

1 Comment

  • Mary Matsuno September 24, 2020 at 8:05 am

    Thank you for your site. I’m a newly retired teacher just beginning to support a family friend with her autistic second grader. The teaching is different. I’m gaining insight reading your articles.

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